Are we implicitly biased toward the different stereotypes within the paranormal field? Maybe there are a lot of things we are missing out on just because of our reluctance to give something or someone a chance?
Implicit bias is a thought or feeling that we are not consciously aware of, or we may even think we don't have them. It means we either have a preference or an aversion to a particular person or more specifically, a particular type of person. Implicit bias falls under what we call social cognition meaning it is a thought process that directly affects the way we interact and perceive other people based on our own belief systems.
The mind sciences have found that most of our actions occur without our conscious thoughts, allowing us to function in our extraordinarily complex world. This means, however, that our implicit biases often predict how we’ll behave more accurately than our conscious values. Multiple studies have also found that those with higher implicit bias levels against black people are more likely to categorize non-weapons as weapons (such as a phone for a gun, or a comb for a knife), and in computer simulations are more likely to shoot an unarmed person. Similarly, white physicians who implicitly associated black patients with being “less cooperative” were less likely to refer black patients with acute coronary symptoms for thrombolysis for specific medical care.
While we are all doing different things for many different reasons in the paranormal field, there does seem to be a general consensus of stereotypes. Often groups of people in different fields have a set bias or set opinion against a person without knowing much about them. If they fall under a particular stereotype, your mind is already made up, even if you aren't aware of it.
Some of the typical stereotypes or attitudes that have been cast upon people over the years are things like:
I feel it is worth pointing out if you didn't already know, that I am not personally making these statements about each group of people. These are common attitudes or stereotypes I have noticed have been cast over the years. While there are likely examples where these statements are true (otherwise the attitudes wouldn't exist in the first place), it doesn't reflect everyone and is a generalization or stereotype that I am sure you have heard before. Whether we think we are the most open-minded people or not, this implicit bias or attitude we have against these stereotypes affects the way we interact with one another ... that is if we even choose to interact at all.
At a very simple level, if you see a new paranormal group pop up on Facebook with the stereotypical black t-shirts and arms crossed (which most of us have done), you may think it is just another paranormal group and not worth following. If a new YouTube channel pops up, you may think it is the same old formula without even watching an episode. A new blog pops up and you read a headline like 'How to be a good paranormal investigator' and think to yourself that it is the same old info why bother reading it? In your mind, you have unconsciously decided to keep either keep scrolling or view the information with a biased opinion before you have even begun. The group could be one driven by true scientific methods with critical thinking. The Youtubers could be refreshing with honesty and a new approach. The blog could have a very different spin than what you are expecting but you just missed out on all of this and possibly finding something you will enjoy because of your implicit bias.
A real-life honest example of one I have is something that happens on tours I host. In the past, I have had a few run-ins on tour with people who are psychic mediums trying to take over a tour and turn it into a performance. It has happened so much to the point that I have to have a disclaimer at the beginning of tours now asking mediums not to give readings to other guests in the middle of the investigation. So when I look at the booking list of a night or I ask people if they have attended an investigation before, if they tell me they are a psychic medium, without thinking about it I am automatically preparing myself and put myself on the defensive. "Here we go again!" I think to myself. In reality, the number of psychic mediums I have met who have been absolutely lovely and have been a positive contribution to the night outweighs the negative experiences by a huge percentage. My bias however is stuck on that small percentage that I have cast into that stereotype based on the negative experiences I have had in the past. It means if I am meeting someone new, I am not as open-minded. Maybe I am coming across as being rude or defensive because I have already put my walls up. The way I interact with them on an unconscious level is probably different.
The way we consume our paranormal research and entertainment has a huge influence on our implicit biases. I know many of you as I do have bones to pick with a lot of the reality paranormal television programs out there thanks to the overreactions and 'everything is demonic' narrative. When we see a trailer for a new show that is starting, our instinct is to write it off before we have even given it a chance. We think it is going to be the same old thing. There are some great shows or even YouTube channels that are a lot more real for example that isn't reflected in that bias that we could be missing. There could be some amazing collaborations we could be making but is our bias against certain groups of people holding us back?
Like all cognitive bias, awareness and critical thinking is your friend here. By applying critical thinking you are essentially taking control of your thought process and decision-making. Instead of it being automatic, you are stopping and thinking about it in a rational way.
It has long been debated that critical thinking can help change the way a person perceives the paranormal itself. There was a study conducted in 2005 to see how critical thinking affects people who believe in the paranormal and if their beliefs can be changed by critical thinking.
A study was conducted to assess the relationship between critical thinking and belief in the paranormal. 180 students from three departments (psychology, arts, computer science) completed one measure of reasoning, the Paranormal Belief Scale (Tobacyk & Milford, 1983), and a scale of paranormal experiences. Half of the subjects filled out the Cornell Critical Thinking Test (Ennis & Millmann, 1985) and the Watson–Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson & Glaser, 2002), respectively. The results show no significant correlations between critical thinking and paranormal belief or experiences. Reasoning ability, however, had a significant effect on paranormal belief scores, but not on paranormal experiences. Subjects with lower reasoning ability scored higher on Traditional Paranormal Belief and New Age Philosophy than did subjects with higher reasoning abilities. Results suggest that those who have better reasoning abilities scrutinise to a greater extent whether their experiences are sufficient justification for belief in the reality of these phenomena.
Hergovich, Andreas & Arendasy, Martin. (2005). Critical thinking ability and belief in the paranormal. Personality and Individual Differences. 38. 1805-1812. 10.1016/j.paid.2004.11.008
The results themselves indicate that a person's reasoning abilities make a difference when it comes to changing a belief related to paranormal phenomena. The same can be applied to the way we interact with one another. An example is the way we try to reason with one another on social media. Someone posts a photo asking for advice and then someone else offers an opinion. The problem in these scenarios is usually two-fold. The person asking for information usually already has their mind made up and they will be unwilling to listen to any explanation that doesn't fit the idea they already have in their head. On the other end, people can sometimes be aggressive, condescending, and plain nasty when it comes to the delivery of their opinion. You can see here you have two stereotypes of paranormal social media interaction. It is likely each group has also cast one another into this category just by reading the tone of the post. When you approach someone by using passive-aggressive language, even if what you are saying makes sense and you have the facts to back it up, they are not going to listen to you because of the way you have delivered the information and cast you in the 'mean skeptic' stereotype. By being so defensive and unwilling to provide key information, the other person has you cast in the 'they only want validation stereotype'. The key here is the information itself.
Our words have a lot of power. They can influence a person. They can educate a person. They can anger a person. They can change a person's mind. How we deliver information can change the way a person behaves. It can change the way a person investigates the paranormal. It can change the way we interpret a situation. It can change the way we even see a person. I know I have spoken in the past at how much I was influenced in my early days of investigating when I was surrounded by more spiritual people. I thought almost everything was paranormal. I knew no different at the time because I had no other point of reference other than those around me. I can see very easily how people could be unknowingly manipulated or coached, especially if it is an area like the paranormal where there is a large population of people who believe in it. I can see how easy it is to cast a stereotype on a person. People took a chance on me anyway and 6 years later I am still sharing my thoughts on the blog with a very different outlook than I did when I first started.
In the end, knowledge is power. By educating ourselves of possibilities we are already in a lot of ways prepping ourselves to think critically. Most importantly, give someone a chance! While I am on the very rational side of investigating, I am good friends with and even turn to more spiritual people for advice. Had I not given them a chance and gotten the chance to know them and more importantly understand them and how they work, I would have written them off early on and put them into the stereotypical pile of people I don't normally work with.
Knowledge doesn't 'ruin' the way you view the paranormal. It changes it. It doesn't ruin the way you view a person. It will change it. When we talk about the paranormal we always say not to make assumptions. The same should apply to people. Be aware of your bias, especially toward people who fall under the stereotypes. I am not saying to be friends with everyone because that too is unrealistic. A lot of what we have in common is the paranormal and you will find that most friendships made in the paranormal don't last beyond the paranormal field for that very reason. They just aren't people you would normally be friends with and that is OK too. Some people really are what you think they are. Some however can really surprise you, and you never know what path that could lead you on.
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